The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.
The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.
I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.
But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.
When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.
What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.
Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.
Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,
Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.
There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.
So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.
With you on the journey,